In June, Rick Berman of the PR firm Berman & Company gave a speech to a room full of oil industry executives. Presumably believing his talk was private, he spoke of waging "endless war" against fracking's opponents and exploiting fear and anger to win supporters. Unfortunately for him, he was being recorded.
An anonymous executive in the room who was offended by Berman's implication that "you have to play dirty to win"—the speech endorsed tactics like digging up dirt on celebrities and high-profile oil opponents to discredit them—recorded the speech and provided the tape to the New York Times, which published a report alongside a full transcript yesterday.
Berman gave the speech alongside Berman & Co. VP Jack Hubbard to solicit donations for a multi-million-dollar campaign called Big Green Radicals, which runs what the Times calls "intentionally controversial" pro-fracking ads in contested markets like Colorado and Pennsylvania. The audience reportedly included representatives of companies like Devon Energy, Halliburton, and Anadarko Petroleum.
Some excerpts from the speech:
Fear and anger have to be a part of this campaign. If you want to win, that's what we're going to do. We're not going to get people to like the oil and gas industry over the next few months. There is no sympathy for the oil and gas industry. So we're not going to tap into the sympathetic.
People ask me one question all the time: "How do I know that I won't be found out as a supporter of what you're doing?" We run all this stuff through nonprofit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors. There is total anonymity. People don't know who supports us.
I've had clients say to me, "Well you know, I don't really want to attack. That's not who we are." I say, "Well, you know, you can either win ugly or lose pretty."
And from Hubbard:
You have people like Yoko Ono...this is a billboard we put up in Pennsylvania about, "Why would we take energy advice from the woman who broke up the Beatles?"
There was also an extended gay joke about a weedwacker.
Berman, as Bloomberg notes, has previously approved his avowed hardball tactics to unions, animal rights activists, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. When Bloomberg reporter Mark Drajem asked a Berman & Co. spokeswoman about Berman's speech, she told him, "We are not confident in the objectivity of your reporting. If you have the recording, then you can use that."